Bring Back the Wall!

Turn the EuroSavant tables for once and consider the calculations of some beginning French blogger, say, who has to compile a sample of authoritative American media (available on-line) to regularly survey and report on, in order to explain to his French-language readers American events and attitudes. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and such like, yes – but what about choices from what you could call the parodic media? The Onion, for example? Jon Stewart’s Daily Show maybe? “You can’t be serious!” may very well be your first reaction (heh!). Except that the Onion does maintain a constant drumbeat of commentary (of its own unique sort, of course) on current affairs, and many Americans – especially younger Americans – rely on TV programs from that parodic sector even as their main source of news.

Snapping back to our customary €S European-to-English polarity, interest has welled up in me from time to time in European humorous publications which bear in some way on current European or world events. For my purposes such would surely be of interest and – if the humor could successfully be translated – also worth a laugh or two. But there’s still not much out there that I know about. There’s the famous French Le Canard Enchaîné (“The Chained Duck”), but that website definitely disappoints. It amounts to little more than giving a shot of the current issue’s cover and offering information about how to subscribe – i.e. just a sort of cyber-shingle. (But be careful lest you get what you wish for: In all my past contact with the paper Le Canard Enchaîné, I’ve found it’s humor to be largely derived from French slang – i.e. rather difficult.)

As you might imagine, the immediate motive for this particular post (other than simply to get a start at resuming my previous posting-rhythm) is that I’ve run across some more European “parodic press,” this time from Germany: Titanic – The Definitive Satire-Magazine (it calls itself).

This website is definitely better than that of Le Canard Enchaîné; yet it still is rather spare by The Onion’s standards. It’s actually a weblog, even if it doesn’t explicitly label itself as such; there’s that tell-tale latest-entry-listed-up-top structure. These entries (jokes, poems, short funny stories, and the like) tend to be rather short, yet the page never contains many of them – generally four or five, although there are links to previous pages at the bottom.


But isolated jokes and anecdotes aren’t what Titanic is all about these days. What’s really going on with the magazine you can discover by clicking on that bottom banner on the left side: the one that says “Die Partei,” meaning “The Party” (of the political sort). Yes, leftist-inclined German politicians (including Gerhard Schröder’s first finance minister, former SPD heavyweight Oskar Lafontaine) have been trying to put their heads together lately to form a new left-wing party, but the staff of Titanic have already beaten them to the punch. Admittedly, it is not immediately clear that Die Partei itself is particularly leftist in its orientation, although the official party program does hint that way. (It proclaims the organization to be a “Party for Work, Rule-of-Law, Protection of Animals, Advancement of Elites, and Basic Democratic Initiative.”) Actually, to me Die Partei resembles nothing so much as the joke campus political movements I had the pleasure to observe a number of years ago when cynicism among university students about on-campus political processes was hitting one of its regularly-recurring highs.

Such campus stunts often gained some degree of cohesion for themselves on the fly by operating as single-issue parties. (For instance, my fondest memories are of the legendary ALF – the Antarctica Liberation Front; sorry, nothing you would have heard of unless you attended a certain university at a certain time.) Die Partei is no different; it’s message is ultimately pretty simple: Rebuild the Wall! Yes, party leader Martin Sonneborn and his editorial cohorts have written off as a demonstrated failure that great social experiment that began on November 9, 1989, when the barriers between East and West Germans came tumbling down. (You can even purchase a “We want our WALL back!” sticker – reproduced to the left – at the Titanic magazine Shop page.)


Can they be serious? Isn’t this all a big publicity stunt? Well, Die Partei is actually preparing to enter candidates in the state elections due next May for Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany’s most-populous state. And it has started to attract serious media attention, including a recent article in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. (And for those of you who can understand spoken German, there is this downloadable interview of Sonneborn on the German nationwide radio network Deutschlandradio.)

Then again . . . most of Sonneborn’s quotes out of that Spiegel article are classic US University humor. “We stand for ideas that are reasonable and socially-responsible. But in order to be able to attain a position to apply common sense to change things in the first place we’re going to have to resort to extremely populist and foul means. This is only following the example of all the other political parties.” To “the definitive division of Germany” (i.e. along the old West-East lines) which has long been Titanic’s pet cause Sonneborn adds in the interview his assertion that “We have after all done everything to show that we are not one people.” Thus: rebuild the Wall! Recreating that – and so shutting eastern Germany off once again in its own self-contained economic zone – will accomplish a couple of things at once. For one, it will put an end to the massive subsidies still being paid out of German federal tax monies to the states of the former DDR. Since that money will stay in the West, it will boost the western German economy. (Sonneborn and his Titanic staff apparently don’t care much about what might happen to that eastern “self-contained economic zone.”) Plus, rebuilding the Wall itself will be a big public-sector project, creating jobs for west Germans and maybe even some east Germans, too.


Chuckles all around. In actuality, though, this line of rhetoric has a very bitter edge to it if you’re German, especially if you’re eastern German. What is reflected here is obviously the keen sense of disappointment that the former DDR still hasn’t been integrated very successfully into the general German economy, even after fourteen years and, indeed, trillions of euros in west-to-east subsidies. The suspicion is in fact that blame for the considerably sub-par German economic performance of recent years can be laid at the feet of the new German brothers from the East and the communist-made mess of an economy they brought as their dowry upon National Reunification in 1990. That statement by Sonneborn in the Spiegel interview – “We have after all done everything to show that we are not one people” – will unfailingly ring to German ears as a cynical negation of the slogan that helped inspire the very risky anti-DDR demonstrations in Leipzig and other East German cities that led to the 1989 collapse of that communist state: Wir sind ein Volk, we are one people. (Yes, there was also Wir sind das Volk: WE are the people.)

There’s something else at work here in the fact that Die Partei is actually going to run candidates in state elections, as if it were a serious party. German voters might very well treat it as such. Elections at the beginning of this month in another western German state, the Saarland, were notable for the degree to which normally-disciplined German voters actually stayed away from the polls on election day. In reaction to this commentators pointed out the truism that such participation results often reflect a feeling among the electorate that voting for one party over another doesn’t much matter anymore – they’re all the same anyway – so why take the trouble to vote at all? It’s very true that, ever since the SPD’s win in the 2002 national elections that enabled Gerhard Schröder to remain Bundeskanzler, that party has strayed far from its socialist, working-class roots in its search for effective solutions to address the German economic malaise. On the one hand, that’s why those politicians from the left are seriously thinking of starting another leftist party. But that’s merely an electoral solution for those who still actually care and believe that politics will ultimately be able to deliver the answers that Germany needs. Keep in mind the apathetic conditions that allow joke parties to flourish on university campuses; for those who have given up on all that, there is Die Partei. And as for myself, I fail to find much of any of this very funny.

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